Paradiso -- Canto VIII

Venus, Charles Martel



2 Venus, born from the sea off Cyprus, was daughter of Dione and Zeus, and mother of Cupid. She had him disguised as Aeneas’ son in order to seduce Dido into loving Aeneas (Aeneid 1, 657-660).




12 With the changing seasons, Venus is a morning or evening star. For Dante, the planet houses the lovers in the third heaven.



19 The souls appear as lights dancing in circular motion at different speeds.







31 Charles Martel (1271-1295), son of Charles II of Anjou, was king of Hungary (he never ruled there) and heir to the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily and of Provence. Dante met him in March of 1294 when Charles visited Florence.















58 The kingdoms of Provence, of Naples (ll. 61-63), of Hungary (l. 65), and of Sicily (ll. 67-69) are described topographically.







70 Typhoeus, a titan said to be buried under Sicily, supposedly caused Mount Etna to smoke. The poet, in heaven, favors a scientific rather than a mythological explanation.

74 The people in Palermo, Sicily, revolted against French rule in 1282 and overthrew Charles I of Anjou; the uprising is known as the Sicilian Vespers.

76 Robert, brother of Charles Martel, spent time in Spain as a hostage (1288-1295) and picked up bad Catalonian habits like stinginess.


























120 The master is Aristotle who writes: "Man is by nature a social animal" (Politics I, i, 2).


124 Solon is the type of statesman and lawgiver, Xerxes of military leader, Melchizedek of high priest, and Daedalus of artisan and inventor.


130 Esau and Jacob, though twins, differed in appearance and disposition (Genesis 25:21-28); Quirinus or Romulus, founder of Rome, had a low-born father.

          Time was, the world, at its own risk, believed
          That Venus, the beautiful Cyprian, whirling
          In the third epicycle, rayed down love’s madness.
          For this the folk of old in their old errors
5         Not only offered homage up to her
          With sacrifices and with votive cries,
          But also honored Cupid and Dione,
          One as her son, the other as her mother,
          And they claimed he had sat in Dido’s lap.
10       And so from her with whom I start this canto
          They took the name of that star the sun woos,
          Now at dawn’s nape and now at evening’s brow.
          I had no sense of rising into it,
          But I was sure of being there when I
15       Perceived my lady grown more beautiful.
          And as we see a spark within a flame
          Or as a voice sounds in a voice when one
          Holds steady while the other comes and goes,
          So I saw in that light those other lanterns
20       Revolving fast or slowly in a circle,
          Depending, I think, on their inner vision.
          Winds, whether visible or not, have never
          Swept down from ice-cold clouds so swiftly that
          They would not seem impeded or too slow
25       To one who had observed the heavenly lights
          Speeding toward us, leaving behind the circling
          Begun first by the lofty seraphim.
          And from the midst of those appearing foremost
          Hosanna sounded in such strains that I
30       Have always craved to hear it once again.
          Then one came closer to us and, alone,
          Began, "We all are ready here to do
          Your pleasure, that you may rejoice in us.
          "With one circle, one circling, and one thirst,
35       We here swirl round with the celestial princes
          To whom you once, when in the world, had said,
          " ‘You whose intellect moves the third heaven.’
          We are so full of love that, if it please you,
          A moment’s silence will be no less sweet."
40       After my eyes had reverently lifted
          To my lady, and she had made them sure
          And satisfied that she gave her consent,
          They turned back to the light that promised such
          Abundance, and in words stamped with profound
45       Affection I called out, "Tell me who you are!"
          And how the light in size and splendor swelled
          I saw through the new joy which now was added
          To all its former joys when I said this.
          So changed, it spoke, "The world held me below
50       But a brief time, and had it been prolonged
          Much evil that shall be would not have happened.
          "My joyousness, which beams round about me,
          Keeps me concealed from you and holds me hidden
          Just like a worm all wrapped up in its silk.
55       "You loved me much, and had good reason to,
          For had I stayed down there, I would have shown
          My love for you could yield more than mere leaves.
          "The left bank of the land bathed by the Rhone,
          Below where it has mingled with the Sorgue,
60       Expected me in time to be its lord,
          "As did the corner of Ausonia, which
          Bari, Gaeta, and Catona border,
          From which the Tronto and Verde flow seaward.
          "Upon my forehead there already glittered
65       The crown of that land which the Danube waters
          Once it has left behind its German shores.
          "And the fair Trinacria, which is blackened —
          Between Pachynus and Pelorus, there on
          The gulf that is most lashed by the east wind —
70       "Not by Typhoeus but by rising sulphur,
          Would even now have looked to have its kings
          Descended through me down from Charles and Rudolph,
          "Had not bad governance, which ever cuts
          The hearts of subject people to the quick,
75       Moved Palermo to shout out, ‘Die! Let them die!’
          "And had my brother seen these things beforehand,
          By now he’d shun the greedy poverty
          Of Catalonia lest it bring him trouble.
          "For it is really necessary that he
80       Or someone else provide, so that no load
          Be further added to his laden ship.
          "His nature — stingy offspring of a lavish
          Forebear — would need a following of knights
          Who have no care for filling up their coffers!"
85       "Since I believe that the deep-seated joy
          Which now these words of yours pour into me
          Is seen by you, my lord, just as I see it
          "Where every good has its end and beginning,
          It is most welcome, and I hold this dear,
90       That you discern it as you gaze on God.
          "You’ve made me joyful — but explain to me,
          Because in speaking you have raised this doubt,
          How is it sweet seed can bear bitter fruit?"
          So I asked him, and he told me, "If I can
95       Show you one truth, then you will hold your face
          Toward what you ask as now you hold your back.
          "The Good, which rotates and contents the whole
          Kingdom that you climb, makes its providence
          To be a power in these brilliant bodies;
100     "And in the Mind, which is itself perfection,
          There is provision not only for these natures
          But also, in them all, for their well-being;
          "So that whatever flies off from this bow
          Falls readily to its determined target,
105     Just like an arrow aimed right at the mark.
          "Were this not so, the heavens where you walk
          Would so bring into being their effects
          That they would not be works of art but ruins.
          "That cannot be, unless the intellects
110     That move these stars be lacking — lacking too
          The First Intellect by making them imperfect.
          "Would you have more light shed upon this truth?"
          And I: "No — I see it is impossible
          That nature tire of doing what is needed."
115     Then he once more: "Now say, should men not lead
          A civic life on earth, would they be worse?"
          "Yes," I replied, "and here I need no proof."
          "And could they lead it, unless people down
          Below live differently with different duties?
120     Not if what your master writes is true."
          By close deduction he had reached this point;
          Then he concluded, "The roots of what you do
          Must, then, be variously sprung, so that
          "This one is born Solon, that one Xerxes,
125     One is Melchizedek, and yet another
          He who flew through the air and lost his son.
          "Circling celestial nature sets its seal
          On mortal wax, performing its art well,
          But making no distinction between houses.
130     "So from the seed of birth, it happens, Esau
          And Jacob differ, and Quirinus comes from
          So base a father, he’s ascribed to Mars!
          "Begotten nature would always take the path
          Which its begetters followed, were it not
135     That divine providence rules otherwise.
          "Now what was once behind you is before you:
          But that you may know I rejoice in you,
          I want to cloak you with this corollary.
          "Forever Nature, should she find that fortune
140     Is out of tune with her, like any seed
          Out of its climate, comes to a bad end.
          "And if the world down there would pay attention
          To the foundation Nature herself lays,
          And built on that, then people would be better.
145     "But you force into the religious life
          One born to bear a sword, and crown a king
          Someone far more suited to preach sermons:
          "That’s how your footprints ramble off the road!"
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